“I wish I had a dime for every time somebody told me to take a few aspirins and get some rest,” is the motto of many migraine headache sufferers these days.
People have been complaining about chronic headache pain since the historic Babylonian times of 3000 BC, but we haven’t gotten any better at recognizing it as a real neurological illness, and not some convenient get-out-of-jail alternative to swallowing a few Advil’s and getting back to work. (If only it were that easy.)
Many chronic migraine patients say they feel misunderstood, and that their friends and family treat them like hypochondriacs. They get well-meaning advice like,
“Learn to relax,”
“Stop eating chocolate,”
“take some sinus medication.”
Sometimes these suggestions are useful and helpful, as there are some things that we can do to prevent migraines. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of things which we seem to have no control over, triggers which keep the migraine attacks coming.
One myth that needs to be dispelled about migraine sufferers
is the idea that they usually feel fine…except for when they get
a really bad headache.
A recent study has been conducted to raise migraine awareness and, hopefully, some sympathy; led by Dr. Jung E. Park, a neurological resident at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, the focus was on the stigma surrounding migraine headaches, a neurological disorder which causes grief and pain to the sufferer.
Certain neurological diseases are empirically evident; somebody who’s suffered a stroke doesn’t need to explain to friends and family that she’s not feeling well. But chronic migraine sufferers experience strong social stigma from friends, family and coworkers, as their neurological illness displays no outward symptoms, only the pain they feel inside. Migraine patients, who are also neurologically impaired, feel that they constantly have to justify their inability to commit to social engagements or time-sensitive work assignments. (For example, read about NBA basketball player, Dwyane Wade’s battle with migraines.)
The research led by Dr. Park, to be featured at the American Headache Society (AHS) in Los Angeles, is the first of its kind to take a stab at understanding the sense of loss and rejection felt by chronic migraine sufferers at the hands of their close friends, family, spouses and coworkers.
- Using the Stigma Scale for Chronic Illness, researchers compared the stigma felt by chronic migraine headache patients with that of individuals who suffer from non-chronic neurological illnesses, such as stroke, Parkinson’s and sporadic migraine headaches.
- The study used a control group of 246 migraine patients from the Jefferson Headache Clinic.
- Half of the headache sufferers who participated in the research experienced ongoing chronic migraines, while the other half complained of occasional migraine attacks.
- Chronic migraine sufferers were found to be most deeply and personally impacted by their condition than sufferers of episodic migraines or other neurological disorders combined.
- Many patients feel pressure to carry on with their wifely, motherly and other social duties, despite their illness, and often suffer stress and family disharmony when they are unable to follow through, sometimes leading to divorce.
Chronic migraine sufferers experience social stigma from
friends, family and coworkers,
as their neurological illness displays no outward symptoms,
only the pain they feel inside
One myth that needs to be dispelled about migraine sufferers is the idea that they usually feel fine…except for when they get a bad headache. Throbbing head pain is only one of several migraine symptoms, including nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea, disorientation and extreme sensitivity to light, noise and scents. Women, who are three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men, are also at high risk for suffering from a stroke if they also experience migraines. (Read Women who get Migraines are also Likely to get This.)
Another myth that surrounds migraines is that it only occurs in low-income areas, and that higher class or better educated individuals are less likely to fall victim to chronic headaches. The truth is, chronic migraine sufferers have a harder time keeping a good job, as they frequently need to call in sick or show up tardy. And when they do make it to work, their job performance suffers.
Jason Rosenberg, M.D., assistant professor of neurology at John Hopkins Medicine, sees firsthand the affect that migraines have on his patients at the Johns Hopkins Headache Center. “This perception of migraine as some sort of a character weakness is very common,” he admits. “Patients themselves will de-legitimize the condition.”
Hopefully, the Jefferson Headache Clinic study will prompt more extensive research into the societal prejudices surrounding migraines, and eventually dismiss the notion that you can get rid of a migraine headache easily with just a few pills, a glass of milk and a 20-minute nap.